Unindexed probate file on FamilySearch

Looking for some guidance on citing certain items in an unindexed and unnumbered probate file from 1872 Catawba County, North Carolina found on FamilySearch.  Searched the content here and found reference to EE 10.33.  From that I have come up with the following for citations to those items:

Source List Entry:  North Carolina. Catawba County. Probate case files. Images. “Wills and Estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978: Original wills Abernethy, Albert - Reitzel, Christian G.” FamilySearch. https://www.familysearch.org: 2021.

First Reference Note:  Catawba County, North Carolina, probate file, Miles Abernethy (1872), for _item of interest_, _date of item_; imaged in “Wills and Estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978: Original Wills Abernethy, Albert – Reitzel, Christian G.,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9G4-SHZ3 : accessed 27 April 2021), FHL film 1,548,326, DGS 7,639,839 > images 1520-1525 of 1895; citing North Carolina Division of Archives and History, State Archives, Raleigh.

Subsequent Note:  Catawba Co., N. C., probate file, Miles Abernethy (1872), _item of interest_, _date of item_.

Have I covered everything that needs to be included?  I am a bit unclear on how to cite the film and whether I should include the source (the state archives).  Any advice would be welcome.

Submitted byEEon Thu, 04/29/2021 - 09:57

Hello, Greg.  This example gives us a lot to unpack!

Unindexed vs. indexed

You describe the collection as “Unindexed probate file.” So, how did you find it?  Using the tools that are accessible from the exact URL you gave (thank you for that!), we can backtrack and find a query box for names, so the collection has been indexed, at least to the file-name level—which means every deceased person for whom a probate was opened.

On the other hand, FamilySearch does not provide a “path” for us to follow, so it appears that the index feature is the one FamilySearch assumes that users will use. However, citing to the search-query form for the collection would complicate the citation.

Layer 1: ID of original file

For this set of records, you have chosen to identify the original document in Layer 1. However, if you were to go to Catawba County, to the office that handles probate records, would you be able to find that document using the details that are there in Layer 1?  No.

The crux of the issue here is that the records are no longer in the Catawba County courthouse. They have been removed to the NC State Archives, where they have been rearranged into the system used by that repository.

Layer 2: Name of database

Your Layer 2 (the ID of the image provider) tells us these images are in a collection that is exactly titled “Wills and Estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1078: Original Wills Abernethy, Albert – Reitzel, Christian G.”  However, when I query FamilySearch for that exact title, using the search box for collection titles,  I get no results.

So, let’s rethink things here:

At the link you give, we see the following:


At the top of the image, we see the film number and the frame number, but no path. At the bottom of the image we see a tab called “Information.”  That tells us that the imaged file is from a set of records called

  • “Wills and estate papers (Caswell County), 1663-1978”  or
  • “Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663–1976”

However, at this point, we don't know whether that record set is the actual collection title or one small part of a larger collection.

Examining the imaged records from that folder, we see that the file is  from Catawba County.  Looking at your draft citation, we see two things

  1. You have correctly copied the name of the Catawba County collection/record set. However, you have added to that title, within quotation marks, data that does not appear in the actual title that FamilySearch gives.
  2. The information you added is part of two pieces of descriptive data that FamilySearch added under “Item Number” and “Film/Digital Note.”  It’s useful data, but it is not part of the title.

That is one reason why my search for that collection in FamilySearch’s catalog failed to yield the collection. Bottom line: When we copy a title and put in quotation marks, we have to copy it exactly or else the ID system doesn’t work.

The phrase “Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978” is colored as a hotlink. When we click it, we find out that it is not the title of a FamilySearch collection. The Catawba County papers are only part of a largercollection that has a different name.  Clicking the hotlink gives us this screen:



he header on this page is the actual collection name: “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979.” (Again, we see here the search form, searchable by name, which tells us that indexing has occurred.)

If we go to FamilySearch.org and click Search > Records, then enter the words “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,” we instantly get that collection, under that title (along with the search form.  


Clearly, this is the title we should use in the citation field for Database Title: "North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979."

We also note at the bottom of the above screen, the hot-linked option “Browse through 6,230,000 images.” That means we have a "browsable" collection from FamilySearch, rather than an "unindexed" collection.

If we click this browsing link, we get a series of menus that give us a simple path we can cite.  Here, I could click Catawba County > “A” > Abernathy, Miles C. (1877) and I am taken directly to the image that you hot-linked. Displayed at the top is the path to follow:



Considering all this, what is the simplest approach to citing the image? EE would choose the path approach, creating this Reference Note for the first item imaged from the folder:

“North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:2:77TD-J347 : accessed 29 April 2021) > Catawba County > A > Abernathy, Miles C (1877) > image 2, Petition of Rebecca Crouse, 20 August 1880;  citing North Carolina Division of Archives and History, State Archives, Raleigh.

A corresponding short form used for a Subsequent Reference Note would be:

“North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:2:77TD-J347 ), image 2, Petition of Rebecca Crouse, 20 August 1880.

A simple Source List Entry would be:

“North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979.” Database with images. FamilySearch. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:2:77TD-J347. Catawba County.


Submitted bygreglovelaceon Fri, 04/30/2021 - 11:19

EE, thank you for the detailed explanation.  I appreciate the time you took to go through this.  You are correct in saying there is a lot to unpack!  However, there is a problem (of course).  The "Abernathy, Miles C. (1877)" from the path you detail is not the correct individual.  Under the "A" for Catawba County, neither is "Abernathy, M C (1876)" or "Abernethy, M C (1877)."  My Miles is not in that collection  :-(  He is "Abernethy, Miles C. (Abernathy) 1872."  You can find my guy if you search for the title "Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978."  In that collection, you'll find my Miles here:  "Original wills Abernethy, Albert - Reitzel, Christian G." which is listed as Item #2 from film 1,548,326, which is also identified with DGS 7639839.  So now you can see my confusion.  When I included “Wills and Estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978: Original Wills Abernethy, Albert – Reitzel, Christian G.,” I was unsure how to point to the second part, which is why I mistakenly put it inside the quotation marks.  And there is no search icon beside the camera icon for that subset, which is the reason I characterized it as "unindexed."  

So...  given this information, do you have an alternate suggestion as to how to cite this series of images?  Thanks so much!


Submitted bygreglovelaceon Fri, 04/30/2021 - 11:39

EE, you asked how I found the record in the first place.  I searched for Miles on Ancestry and found the probate file in the results, along with records for several other men named Miles Abernathy/Abernethy.  The citation on Ancestry pointed to "Original wills Abernethy, Albert - Reitzel, Christian G.," and I spent an inordinate amount of time searching on FamilySearch for that, finally ending up in the collection "Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978."  I tend to choose FamilySearch images over Ancestry images so that researchers without an Ancestry subscription can find the image if they want to.  And the URLs for FamilySearch are said to be more stable than those at Ancestry.

Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/30/2021 - 19:52

First test of a citation: Can someone else find what we found by using what we cite. :)

So: After that "inordinate amount of time searching on FamilySearch" (which I definitely understand because I spent that, too, yesterday), how and where did you find a "collection" called "Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978"?

Testing myself again just now, on FS's main search page, in the section "Find a Collection," I entered that exact set of words in the box for collection name:

That turned up nothing.  As I mentioned in my first response, after I waded through other approaches, I found the phrase "Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978" only as a subgroup of the much bigger collection "North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979."  Those subgroups aren't discoverable by querying "Find a Collection."

You also have me officially puzzled.   Your  "Abernathy, Miles C." does not appear in the Catawba County wills and estate papers, when approached through the "North Carolina Estate Files, 1663–1979," but you do have  images of the file that you found another way?  Obviously that citation needs to clarify the route through which you ended up finding it! 

Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/30/2021 - 20:07

Aha, I found a gateway, but that "Wills and estate papers (Catawba County), 1663-1978" still is not a named database title that you should insert into that field of the citation. It's still just a group of filmed records that's described in the catalog. The route I used is this:

FamilySearch "Search Catalog"

That query gave me this:

FamilySearch Catalog Search Results for Catawba County


Submitted byEEon Fri, 04/30/2021 - 20:32

So now, Greg, after a lot of complications, the citation gets a lot simpler. It's a standard citation in which Layer 1 cites the original document and Layer 2 cites the FamilySearch website (URL) > film > image number.

Starting with the image, the key to your citation is to backtrack on that roll of film to find the start of the "record set" (not collection <g>) that you are using. Those 1895 frame cover several different record sets. Fortunately, your person-of-interest had a name beginning with Ab...., so it did not take long to find the start of the record set. There, at image 1513, we find this:

This "film target" gives us the data we need to create a citation with full data in Layer 1. Notice also that the record set is Original Wills, rather than "Probate Case Files" or "Probate file."

Using this data, a Reference Note to the whole file would say:

Catawba County, North Carolina, Original Wills, folder:  “Abernethy (Abernathy), Miles  1872,” State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh; imaged, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9G4-SHZ3 : accessed 27 April 2021)> FHL digital film 1,548,326 > images 1520–1525 of 1895.


Submitted bygreglovelaceon Sat, 05/01/2021 - 08:15

EE, thanks for sharing my pain!  :-D  My method was a series of trials and errors, similar to what you went through.  I kept looking through the different collections trying to find what I had found on Ancestry.  So now you can understand my confusion in trying to cite this thing!  

Thank you for the citation info.  This is the first time I've seen any citation that uses the initial frame of the film series to gather the information for the citation.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  

BTW...  Miles Abernathy/Abernethy is my maternal 3x-great-grandfather.  My grandfather was illegitimate, and with the use of autosomal DNA and information related by my late mother and late grandmother, I have been able to connect all the way back to Miles.  

Again, thank you for your help!

Submitted byEEon Sat, 05/01/2021 - 08:41

DNA is definitely a wonderful addition to our tool kit.  Re "looking at the initial frame of the film series to gather information for the citation,"  that's the same as looking at the title page of a book, no?